A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists


By Quill

Principal censors critical editorial

A Durham, N.C., high school principal ordered his school’s student newspaper to remove an editorial questioning why the relative of a nominee for homecoming queen was allowed to help count votes.

Principal Larry McDonald of Southern High School said he believes the newspaper should promote positive viewpoints of fellow students and encourage others.

“The purpose of the newspaper is to encourage, not to put people down,” McDonald was quoted as saying in an Associated Press article. “It’s not to belittle and berate your classmates.”

The editorial’s author, Southern High senior Tamara White, wrote in the Spear & Shield newspaper that a faculty member at the school, a relative of the homecoming candidate, shouldn’t have counted votes.

A copy of the newspaper was sent to the school’s 1,450 students without the editorial on Dec. 17.

McDonald will review future issues of the newspaper before they are printed and will stop the publication of articles if necessary, AP reported.

Superintendent holds back public records

A school district superintendent was forced to retire following an investigation into his noncompliance with the Texas Public Information Act.

Superintendent Charles R. Bradberry of the Keller School District announced in a Dec. 18 news release that he had voluntarily retired from position of superintendent, one he had held for seven years.

Bradberry, 58, had been the focus of the Tarrant County district attorney’s investigation into failing to turn over public records to a local newspaper, according to a report on the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Web site.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Dave Lieber sought invoices for construction work the school district contracted out to contractor Phil Mayfield. Mayfield was fired by the district for overcharging as much as $275,000.

Bradberry had denied such invoices existed, which caused School Board President Richard Walker to ask Bradberry to go on voluntary paid leave. Eventually, Bradberry turned the invoices records over to Lieber, but well after the 10 days allowed by law.

No criminal charges were pressed against Bradberry.

Principal forces students to change articles

The principal of Salem High School in Massachusetts refused to publish the student newspaper in January until changes were made to three articles critical of her policies.

Soon after the decision, the newspaper’s adviser resigned in a letter to the principal.

The articles, which were planned for the front page, addressed the school’s recent bans on eating food in class, bans on wearing hats and the overall low morale of students.

Staff members of the Witches Brew newspaper told the Salem News they reluctantly agreed to the changes requested by Principal Ann Papagiotas, who apparently had inserted explanations for the new policies, according to a report on the Student Press Law Center Web site.

For instance, she wrote in one article that food had been banned from classrooms because of a mouse problem.

In the Salem News article, Superintendent Herb Levine defended the principal’s decision, saying: “The school newspaper is strictly and only in the authority of the school principal. I believe that she’s not only doing the right thing, but she’s doing it the right way.”

He added that a January delay in publishing the newspaper was appropriate because some opinions in the article could be interpreted as “disruption or disorder” that may cause arguments or fights.

After the initial debate, the Salem News obtained a letter from newspaper adviser Pamela Hebert, who told Papagiotas, “I am too nervous to take the risk of continuing with the school newspaper.”

Interestingly, Massachusetts’ Legislature in 1988 enacted a strong law in defense of the protection of public high schools against censorship – the Massachusetts Student Free Expression Law. The SPLC said that decision may theoretically eliminate the effect of the United State’s Supreme Court 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kulhmeier, which said a school can editorially control content of a school-sponsored newspaper if officials can show it is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”